Conflicts in maintaining biodiversity at multiple scales


Richard A. Lankau, Fax: 706 542 1805; E-mail:


Biodiversity consists of multiple scales, including functional diversity in ecological traits, species diversity and genetic diversity within species, and is declining across the globe, largely in response to human activities. While species extinctions are the most obvious aspect of this, there has also been a more insidious loss of genetic diversity within species. While a vast literature concerns each of these scales of biodiversity, less is known about how different scales affect one another. In particular, genetic and species diversity may influence each other in numerous ways, both positively and negatively. However, we know little about the mechanism behind these patterns. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Nestmann et al. (2011) experimentally explore the effect of species and functional diversity and composition of grassland plant communities on the genetic structure of one of the component species. Increasing species richness led to greater changes in the genetic composition of the focal populations over 4 years, primarily because of genetic drift in smaller population sizes. However, there were also genetic changes in response to particular plant functional groups, indicating selective differences driven by plant community composition. These results suggest that different levels of biodiversity can trade-off in communities, which may prove a challenge for conservation biologists seeking to preserve all aspects of biodiversity.